It's a phrase that absolutely sets my teeth on edge, almost as much as when someone orders me to, "Smile!"
"Think positive!" The only people who have ever said that to me have said it to either manipulate my actions for their benefit or stood to gain more than I would -- usually financially -- from my having "positive" attitude.
Aside from being rude and unfeeling, the phrase should be restated to mean it's true intent: "Think positively about what I want and to hell with your feelings."
Don't get me wrong -- I am a great proponent of positive thinking. I could not have gone through some of the challenges of my life -- and Linguini readers know they have been many and brutal -- if I hadn't consciously developed an immunity to all the negative energy swirling about me.
I can recognize when, as a family, we've entered "rut mode," where, after a setback, we begin feeding off each other's fears. But even then, it's not my place to order everyone to "be positive." And I'm well aware of the wisdom of the phrase, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Certainly there have been times when I've had the power to set the tone for the household and knew I'd better pull myself together before someone does something drastic.
As a mother, I'll admit when the Heirs were younger there were times I had to remind them that most of what we worry about never happens and to take responsibility for their own, personal "rut modes." But to tell them how the "should" feel ("Think positive!") would have been a betrayal of the latitude given to me as a parent.
I recall an incident when my mother was dying of cancer. I was working in the comptroller's department of a bank at the time, living at home and trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. This was a time before "hospice" when terminal patients were either kept in hospitals or sent home for relatives to make do as best they could.
It was a horrible, horrible few months for Da Bros and I, not to mention my father, who had essentially shut down, leaving poor 15-year-old Dark Garden not only without a mother, but also without a father.
This wasn't a situation I shared with everyone at work. I didn't want to become "the lady with the dying mother." However, whereas I usually functioned as the office comic, not to mention the department diplomat who smoothed over office politics before it had to go to personnel, I was now more sedate and quiet and, frankly, clueless when day-to-day employee kerfuffles were escalating.
Most of my co-workers and management were satisfied with the explanation that I was "going through some stuff." After all, my work wasn't suffering. But one supervisor -- a woman who got her job mostly because she was married to the son of the bank's CFO and who had been cushioned since birth by money and plain, dumb luck -- just couldn't let it go. She called me into her office to tell me she couldn't help noticing my attitude and perhaps I needed to "leave my burnt toast at home."
And then, when I offered the "going through some stuff" explanation, she uttered the words that ring in my ears to this day: "You need to think positively! It will turn your life around and everything will change!"
Now, not only did I feel miserable because I was 22 and my life consisted of working, going to hospitals and tending to my sick mother and that, ultimately, my mother was going to die anyway, I also felt guilty that I felt BAD about it. Call it a Catholic girls guilt or whatever -- the fact is, that in the throes of my grief and pain, I was made to feel that somehow this was all my fault because I couldn't manage to FEED GOOD about it. And, truthfully, I felt that way for a long time.
I know now, 32 years later, that I was called into that office because I was no longer doing the supervisor's job of employee relations for her. I think of what a more enlightened Sisiggy would have said and even considered, for a time, returning there to deliver my scathing diatribe.
Alas, the bank no longer existed. A few years after I left to move to Virginia, the entire company was investigated by the fed, and most of upper management was found guilty of various forms of financial mayhem.
Still, I have this vision of visiting her in her reduced circumstances, patting her on the hand and advising her to "think positive!"
What reminded me of all this was I was shopping at a department store recently and ahead of me a very talkative woman was checking out, going on and on about why she'd purchased each item or why she chose one thing over another or why her son hated this, but loved that and blah, blah blah. The clerk, as it appeared to me, was focusing on the transaction and not responding to the inane chatter of the customer. This was bothering the customer no end and she kept looking toward me and rolling her eyes as though we should join forces against mute department store clerks.
As the clerk handed the customer the receipt and said the obligatory, "Thank you," Ms. Motormouth looks at her closely and says perkily, "You should smile!"
The clerk had this stricken, deer-in-the-headlights look on her face and I think she almost broke down and cried. These days, especially, you don't know people's story and what they're going through. What I saw in that clerk was a raw, depleted soul, white-knuckling it through her obligations with the last of her reserves being asked by a privileged, insensitive airhead to validate her skills as a savvy shopper.
Now, I'm don't normally jump into the fray on things like this. But that clerk looked so stricken and then looked at me as if to say, "Now, what are you going to hit me with?"
I looked at the Perky Pollyanna walking toward the exit, shook my head and said, "What an idiot!"
We both smiled. And breathed.